The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the delivery of healthcare due to lockdown and social distancing measures, as well as increased burden on hospitals and healthcare providers. This led to unprecedented demand for alternatives to in-person care such as telemedicine and remote patient monitoring. While use has decreased somewhat since late 2021, virtual health interventions will play a key important role in the future of care delivery, by addressing many barriers to healthcare access such as cost and availability of services in remote areas. The pandemic also caused significant disruption to clinical research. Disruptions included delayed initiation or complete withdrawal of planned clinical trials and suspended enrollment or termination of ongoing trials. This led to increased use of decentralized clinical trials (DCTs) across the pharma industry, and GlobalData research shows that many companies will continue to use DCTS beyond the pandemic. Since early 2020, many leading clinical research organizations (CROs) and eClinical software providers have expanded their capabilities in response to the growing demand for these services. Several specialist virtual trial providers have also emerged in recent years and attracted considerable attention during the pandemic.
For several years, the tech giants—Amazon, Google, Apple, and Microsoft—have been making big moves in the healthtech space, with the development of technology solutions and forging of key strategic partnerships with other vendors. Their interest in healthtech intensified post-pandemic, particularly for virtual care technologies.
In February 2022, it was announced that one of the biggest telemedicine companies in the US, Teledoc, had entered a collaboration with Amazon to expand its virtual care services on Echo devices. Customers in the US will be able to connect to a Teladoc healthcare provider 24/7 on Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Show for non-urgent healthcare needs, such as cold, influenza, or COVID-19 symptoms. The cost per visit can be as low as $0 per visit with insurance or $75 without insurance. Teladoc on Alexa will initially be audio visits, but video visits to healthcare professionals will be coming in the near future. This collaboration has strengthened Amazon’s position in the healthcare space, moving it a step ahead of its competitors. This certainly was not Amazon’s first move in Telemedicine; since 2019, Amazon offers a service known as Amazon Care as an individual benefit, which allows users to access virtual urgent and primary care services.
DCTs use digital technologies and other processes that differ from traditional trial models to bring research closer to patients’ homes in order to increase access to trials, as well as reducing inconvenience and burden on participants by decreasing the number of physical site visits. Amazon has also strengthened its position in virtual trials by announcing a collaboration with THREAD Research, a specialist DCT provider. Amazon will use its Amazon Web Services (AWS) technology platform to automate processes by utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning tools that accelerate trial recruitment and reduce long-term costs. By using such tools, THREAD’s DCT platform will provide real-time data and insights that increase efficiencies when making innovative treatments for patients across the world.
The pandemic led to increased demand for more patient-centric and technology-enabled services that allow patients to receive convenient and affordable care from the comfort of their homes, as well as improve access to clinical research. The sector is therefore ripe for disruption and GlobalData predicts that big tech companies will continue to make significant inroads in certain areas of healthcare. Traditional players in this space need to prepare for the increased digital transformation of healthcare and identify the threats and opportunities posed by the presence of big tech.